My coworker has found himself taken with the Ripe Pu-Erh Tea I have served him, so he took it upon himself to visit a local tea retailer and bring in a contribution to our growing workplace stash. Still maintaining he, “doesn’t know much about tea”!
I’m not quite sure how anyone could ask for a tea named “Maiden’s Ecstasy” with a straight face!
Anyway, lascivious name aside, this is a fine Pu-Erh tea, hay and forest floor flavors dominate the early steeps giving way to leather and wood in the later steeps. Aftertastes are menthol/camphor. It doesn’t have great length or complexity, but it is fairly reasonably priced and I don’t detect any real flaws. A very good every day ripe Pu-Erh, in other words.
I was looking to try some different sorts of tea and I liked white2tea’s philosophy:
“we conduct business with a simple philosophy: if we would not drink it, we will not sell it.
“our approach to sales is minimalist.
“no flowery descriptions of flavors. no fairytale stories about monks and tea masters. no bullshit.
“we provide the tea. the experience is up to you.”
So, I joined their tea club to get an idea about the teas they sell.
The first shipment I got was January, and it was a selection of seven Wuyi yancha, or “Rock Oolong”. Wuyi yancha are among the most highly prized, and highly priced, of Oolong teas. They are grown in the Wuyi mountains of Norther Fujian, China. As with wine, the struggle of the tea bush to survive on these rocky slopes and tough conditions concentrates the flavor in the few leaves they do produce.
On the white2tea website these sell for between $10 and $25 dollars for 25g.
Each sample is around 8g, which is a bit heavy for a single dose, or very light for more than one.
Iron Arhat, known in Chinese as tiěluóhàn, or literally, “Iron Warrior Monk”, is one of the the “Four Great Oolongs”.
I used the full sample for one batch, around 8g, brewed with water just off the boil, in a 140ml porcelain Gaiwan.
The flavors are wonderfully integrated, with none dominating. Some sweetness and minerality, with a touch of creaminess and roast flavors. Amazing length and complexity, with an aftertaste that just doesn’t quit. Great re-steepability, as well, surviving and thriving well past nearly 4 cups of water, with only a bit of grip and tannin showing up in the later, longer steeps. An amazing tea to savor as its tastes evolve over the course of the steeps.
This is another tea from the Simau, (or Puerh,) prefecture of Yunnan Province. In this case, it is a Ripe, or Shou, Pu-erh tea. One unusual thing about this tea, is that it is grown from “Te Ji” grade leaf, which is the second smallest grade used to produce Puerh tea. It was harvested in April of 2017.
“The tea was harvested from organically cultivated tea pure assamica varietal tea bushes growing at an altitude 1300-1350 meters (4300-4450 feet) on summit of Ma Wei Mountain (just west of Pu’Er City). The tea is picked and processed into sun-dried mao cha, and then wet piled (wu dui) for 45 days, transforming it into ripe pu-erh tea (熟普洱). “
The wet pile taste is mild for such a young tea, and fades in the middle steeps, making it a good tea for newer drinkers of ripe pu-erh. It pours nearly coffee dark and exhibits pleasant chocolate-like flavors and mild bitterness early. Later, it shows some nice camphor and floral character in the aftertaste.
One warning/feature, is the tea has a very potent buzz. I was sharing this with my coworker and quite glad I didn’t drink the whole batch or I would have been buzzing three ways ’til Sunday.
Starting from the end, the tea is from “Jinngu” County in the Simao Prefecture of Yunnan Provice of China. The Simao Prefecture is also sometimes called “Pu’Er” and it is the heart of Puerh tea production in China.
This is a “White Tea”, meaning the buds and leaves are picked, briefly faded, then quickly dried.
It is made in the “Moonlight” style, which is a style of white tea made in Yunnan which is allowed to oxidize slightly more than is normal during the fading, expressing more of the fruit character of the tea.
In the more mountainous regions of Puerh, there are trees whose buds and leaves are higher in anthocyanins, it is believed in reaction to the elevation. These trees are called “Purple”. These tea trees are often used to make PuErh and Black Teas, but the anthocyanins contribute to making them rather on the bitter sides of those styles. (FYI, there are three distinct types of purple tea varietals in teas on the Yunnan Sourcing site, so it can be a bit confusing.)
Finally, it is “Wild Tree”, which means that the trees from which these buds and leaves are harvested grow outside of the commercial Puerh plantations. It is my understanding that this particular tea is only picked once a year and in a fairly small amount. It often sells out quickly on the Yunnan Sourcing site.
When you open the bag and smell the dry leaves, the aroma is amazing. Dried stonefruit and leather. Completely different from the mild floral or earthy perfume you might be used to from most white teas.
The wet tea is true to the dry aroma, as is the flavor of the steeped beverage. Dried stonefruit and earthy, leathery flavors. If you push it, and brew it hot, you will start to express a bit of the bitterness which can be present in other styles. It has a haunting length of flavor and the leaves, brewed carefully, last for many steeps.
If you like White tea, but are looking for a truly special tea with a little more zest and variety, this is a great one to try. Keep an eye out for it on the Yunnan Sourcing Instagram, Website, or Newsletter.
Nepali Green Pearl Tea from Rainbow Grocery in SF.
One of my coworkers has noticed that I am often making tea, and I sometimes share with him, so he brought in some he got at Rainbow Grocery, with the caveat, “I don’t know much about tea, but Nepali Tea seemed interesting.”
I found it interesting, as well. I didn’t know ANY green tea was made in Nepal or India. I thought it was all Black.
My initial impressions are that some care was taking with producing this tea. The dried tea is well formed and undamaged. After steeping I see that it is 1 bud, 1 leaf.
I brewed this with my usual Chinese Green tea gaiwan method.
6 grams of tea, water starting around 185 degrees F.
The first thing I notice is a smoky ham-like character. Not like a tea that has been smoked or contaminated with smoke as part of the kill green, but as character of the tea. A little greasy, with a thick soup in the first steeps, but quickly thinning.
The first steeps are super intense, but the flavor quickly fades as the brewing continues.
Unfortunately, the overall impression the tea leaves, after the initial flavor shock, is of an unpleasant lingering bitterness in the throat, which continues through the less intense later steeps.
Working my way through green teas, it seems I cannot resist the siren call of Oolong!
There are different types of Oolong, but the most well known is called Tie Guanyin, also sometimes called Iron Goddess of Mercy. According to one of the legends of this type of tea’s origins, a humble tea farmer in Anxi County, Fujian, China, noticed a local temple had fallen into disrepair. He took it upon himself to clean it up, sweep it out, and then offer some incense to the goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. Shortly thereafter, the Goddess appeared to him in a dream. She told him that in the cave behind her temple a treasure awaited that he needed to share with others. When he investigated, he found the shoot of a tea tree. He planted the shoot in his field and nurtured it, the tea it produced was amazing! He gave cuttings of the tree to his neighbors far and wide. When all the tea trees came to fruition, they began selling it under the name “Tie Guanyin” to honor the goddess.
Whenever I’ve seen “Iron Goddess of Mercy” tea on a restaurant menu, I order it, I mean, who could resist such a name?
This is a darkly roasted Tie Guanyin. The base of the flavors and smells are similar to dark roasted grain, a bit like a dark beer or Japanese roasted barley tea. On top of that are layers of sweetness and orchid fragrance which perfume the tea pot and cup. The fragrance/taste of the tea is long lasting and haunting, but the perfume is not overpowering. Super elegant and incredibly well balanced.
I had been enjoying John King’s Instagram feed when he posted the following summary of a new tea, a wild tree tea from the Bulang region in Menghai county.
“Regarding these wild tree, we still don’t know how old they are. What it attracts me was the unique bitterness and soon coming Huigan (sweetness from aftertaste) and fell in love with it when I first tried it accidentally in Menghai. Always hard to find accurate description words on this bitterness. It is a wild, naughty flavor.”
I do really enjoy the way John describes his teas. It is slightly poetic, yet at the same time highly specific and descriptive.
As someone who enjoyed bitterness, (Broccoli Raab is one of my favorite vegetables, when I was drinking I imbibed copiously of the Amaro…) I almost felt like he was daring me to try this tea!
Who wouldn’t want to try a tea with, “a wild, naughty flavor”?
When I finally got around to ordering a cake of the tea he was describing, he said he would include some samples of others he thought I might like, given my interest in his Bitterly Wild and Naughty Tea.
I suppose I should have considered myself warned.
This tea is a blend of tea leaves from Wild trees and Old trees from the BanPen (班盆 which belongs to BanZhang tea area).
The opening flavors are quite bitter, they lead to middle flavors that are OK, but not amazing. Tobacco, Leather. Where this tea shines is in its outstanding and lengthy finish, camphor like flavors which seems to almost evaporate from your tongue. Oh, and it is one of those teas where you’re a couple cups in, and realize that it is zippy. Very Zippy. Or as John says, “Strong ChaQi makes mind clear and breath smooth and clear.”
Isn’t something like that the Mental Mantra from Frank Herbert’s “Dune”?
Another sample which came along with an order from King Tea Mall.
As I mentioned before the Chinese region of Yunnan borders Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar in a sort of indistinct mountainous area. Tea trees grow naturally in the neighboring areas of of all three countries.
As I understand it, John King, the proprietor of King Tea Mall tried some teas in small villages of Laos near Burma and became entranced with the potential of the tea trees there.
Usually, when we say “tea trees”, calling them “trees” is being generous. Most are kind of bushy and spindly, not getting much taller than a man. In commercial tea producing areas, it doesn’t make much sense to let them get too big, it just makes them harder to harvest.
In these areas of Laos, some of these tea trees have been growing wild, apparently for years or decades.
John has some great pictures of the workers climbing trees like squirrels to harvest the tender shoots and leaves of these enormous tea trees.
I’ll let him describe the tea.
“That is a flavor I have never tasted before. Though there is near the south border of YI WU tea region in China, but the taste is far different. Also different from teas from other regions in Yunnan.
“Ever the bitterness turns out in the beginning or sweetness which comes from aftertaste are obvious like a weather I experienced these days in that tea sourcing trip. The sun was shining brightly. Soon a group of cloud dropped by and brought a sudden rainfall. Meanwhile, the sun was still shining from higher sky. When the cloud passed by minutes later, sky turned back to normal as before.
“Rich taste with complex. The mouth feeling varies when tea liquid passes into throat.”
I can’t do any better than that, but I will say the later steeps of this tea exhibit some great fruit flavors that I believe will only be enhanced as it ages.
Usually, the term “Puerh” is reserved solely for tea made in Yunnan, China. Others can be called “Dark Tea”, but they aren’t Puerh.
John brought in tea harvesters and processors from Yunnan, did the early stages of tea processing in Laos. Then moved the tea to Menhai, Yunnan, where the processing was completed. So, at the very least it is Laotian Tea processed in Puerh Style.
I mentioned when I ordered a couple teas from Yin Xiang Hua Xia Tea, they sent along a few samples. One was this mysterious entity, marked only in Chinese characters.
The single serving Chicklet/Tile shape intrigued me, but I couldn’t find anything very similar on their website.
Opening the package, it seemed like a white tea of some sort.
I sent a note off the the tea company asking what it was, but went ahead and brewed it at the slightly lower temps I use for white tea.
When I tasted it, I was pretty sure it was a white tea, as it reminded me strongly of Fujianese Bai Mudan or White Peony type tea.
It was quite tasty and surprisingly zippy, with the typical tasting notes you’d give a white tea. Light body, floral, yet earthy/minty flavors. Good length of aftertaste and a bit more re-steepability than you would expect from even a Bai Mudan.
I did eventually hear back from the company and find out the tea is what they call Songya Mudan from 2012. Songya Mudan is a classification of Fujianese white tea with fewer buds than Bai Mudan.
It’s important to note that the main classifications of white tea are based mostly on the ratio of buds to leaves, Silver Needle, White Peony, etc., and that they aren’t exactly related to quality of the tea. Instead, the amount of bud in the tea will affect the character of the brewed tea. In general, the more buds, the more subtle the flavor, the more leaves, the more white tea will taste like the flavors you normally associate with tea. There can be very good (and very bad) teas in any of these classifications, so it is more important to find an importer you trust, and whose taste matches yours, than to decide based solely on Silver Needle vs White Peony vs whatever. Also, Silver Needle teas, because of the increased labor involved with picking more buds per gram of tea, will be more expensive.
There’s an interesting saying that the Chinese have about White Teas:
“一年茶、三年药、七年宝” or “First Year it’s Tea, In the Third Year it’s Medicine, after Seven Years it’s Treasure”
So, finding out Yin xiang hua xia tea, had sent me not just a sample, but an actual “treasure” was quite a surprise!
As regards the medicinal claims for white tea, I will say while drinking so much White Tea through December and January, I was rarely ill, while those around me in the office fell prey repeatedly to colds and flus.
Another point of interest, because the leafier versions of White Tea are so fragile, it actually makes sense to buy it in cakes. The last time I ordered White Tea from China, it was opened and inspected by US Customs. I think unpacking and squeezing the white tea bags was among their priorities, so my tea arrived pretty crushed. If I had, instead, ordered white tea cakes, it might not have been as damaged.